There is no shortage of storylines as the NHL skates into mid-February. Wait a hot second, didn't the month just start? Allow Weekly Warmup to catch you up and preview a week that includes Valentine's Day and President's Day Weekend.
Let's drop the puck:
Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin and his Capitals teammates hosted Philadelphia Saturday night with an eye toward Ovechkin's first chance to reach the 700-goal mark for his illustrious career. All made possible by Ovi scoring three third-period goals in less than five minutes (the first one with six minutes remaining) last Tuesday at home against Los Angeles, turning a 2-1 deficit into another win for an Eastern Conference leaders. But the visiting Flyers were determined to not witness any Ovechkin love-in. In post-game comments, Philly player made it clear they talked pre-game about "making sure we knew where he was" on the ice. The plan worked and then some: The Flyers routed the Caps,, 7 to 2 to zero goals for Ovechkin. Even better for Philadelphia, beloved captain Claude Giroux earned three points (1G, 2A) to reach his own career milestone of 800 total points. The Flyers rebounded from a disappointing 5-0 loss to New Jersey earlier in the week to remain in the thick of competition for the Eastern Conference wild-card playoff spots (each division sends it top three teams to make six, then the seventh and eighth teams are determined by best record no matter the divisions). Monday, the Flyers host Florida, which is directly behind them in the wild-card standings.
Ovi Watch Continues
Facing former Capitals Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders, Ovechkin will look to make progress toward the 700-goal mark, which will make one of only eight NHL players to reach that scoring summit, including becoming the second youngest and second fastest to 700. After that, Washington fans will have to watch or listen during the team's upcoming road trip to Colorado, Arizona and Vegas. Despite no goal in the aforementioned Philly loss, Ovechkin is still trending way up with 16 goals in his last 11 games, including three hat tricks in the last eight games (making it 28 three-goal games in his career). The 34-year-old now projects to be a 60-goal scorer this season, which would be second-best to the 65 he scored as a 22-year-old.
Trade (Deadline) Winds
The NHL Trade Deadline is two weeks away. That means team general managers will be busy phoning and text other GMs to figure out what players might be available, plus contacting their hockey sources to help evaluate those names on the trade market. On the ice, those same players will influence deadline moves by their level of play. Between now and Feb. 24, the pivotal decision is whether a team is going to be active in acquiring players (and likely giving up draft choices and/or top prospects and/or a promising player who is "stuck" behind other teammates at the same position). Do teams on the playoffs bubble go hard to make the playoffs or stick with the long-term commitment to build a winner with younger players who can fit under the team's salary cap in years to come, passing on veteran who might spark a postseason run but with a contract that disrupts the future plan. Those "buy or sell" decisions get tough when your team gets hot and pushes into playoffs picture. Four Central division teams in those quandaries are Winnipeg, Nashville, Minnesota and Chicago. All will have a tall task to catch Dallas for the third and final automatic spot from the division. Even Dallas has to determine if it needs to swing a trade to compete with division leader St. Louis and second-place both equally dangerous to face in the first round of the playoffs.
There is lots of talk about New York Rangers Chris Kreider getting traded before the deadline, making NYR sellers. Kreider is a 28-year-old with 20 goals and 18 assists this season, playing a power game that features a physicality most NHL GMs associate with playoffs-style hockey. LA defenseman Alec Martinez comes up a lot, especially since Los Angeles is most definitely in sell-mode, looking up at too many teams in the wild-card race. Defense will be a target for many teams who are facing key injuries at the position, especially Calgary and Pittsburgh. To jog the memory, two impactful trades made last February were Mark Stone going to Vegas (adding a clutch scorer and leader who signed a long-term deal) and Matt Duchene moving to Columbus (helping CBJ win its first-ever playoff series then leaving to sign as a free agent with Nashville).
Games to Watch
Along with the Ovechkin watch Monday in D.C., Thursday in Colorado and Saturday in Arizona, here are some matchups to circle with your classic Flair pen: Tuesday: Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (teams with nearly identical impressive records); Wednesday: Montreal at Boston (two long-time rivals with Canadiens deciding whether to buy or sell at trade deadline); Thursday: St. Louis at Vegas (possible Western Conference preview) and Friday/Valentine's Day: well, there's Montreal at Pittsburgh but there is also this thing called a date night?
Stick tap to Sean Leahy from NBCSports.com: Going into Monday's games, Ovechkin has quite the stats collection: 110 game-winning goals, 259 powerplay goals, 345 goals scored at home, 504 goals scored in Washington wins, nearly 5,500 shots on goals and 24,000 minutes logged, by far the most than any other active player.
The Great Eight
Famous for wearing the number 8, Ovechkin will join seven other NHL greats to make it an octet. If you were wondering, these are the scorers that Ovi is chasing: Mike Gartner (708), Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731), Brett Hull (741), Jaromir Jagr (766), Gordie Howe (801) the Holy Grail, er, Gretzky, Wayne (894). Gartner and Esposito are within reach this season.
In Other Scoring News…
While the Alex Ovechkin goal quest gets the most attention, let's remember he and Toronto's Auston Mathews are tied for the league lead with 40 goals this season. Boston's David Pastrnak, the leader most of the season, is next with 38. Plus, Edmonton's 1-2 punch of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid (or vice versa, take your pick) just became the first set of NHL teammates since 1996-97 to notch 30 goals and 80 points after 55 games. The last pair? A couple guys from Pittsburgh named Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. Teammate and NHL Seattle GM Ron Francis was part of it first-hand, playing at times with Lemieux and Jagr, plus notching 90 points (27 G, 63 A) that season.
Don't Hold Back...
Since he was traded to Montreal, veteran forward Igor Kovalchuk has rekindled his scoring touch with 12 points (6G, 6A) in 15 games, including three game-winning goals--two in overtime, including the decider in rivalry game against Montreal. Judging from this recent post, it appearing is tuning up his game and, uh, his own kids?